by Albert Fontenot
While the misuse of opioid painkillers has received a lot of attention during the ongoing US drug epidemic, the fact is that the abuse of ALL prescription medications is a far bigger problem than most people realize. In addition to pain meds, millions of people also divert tranquilizers, sleeping medications, and even ADHD stimulants.
In your own family, it can be hard to notice when this is happening. After all, you’re probably aware when your husband or wife has a medical condition that provides them with a legitimate prescription. But how can you tell when authorized use has turned into non-medical abuse?
Let’s take a quick look at common warning signs of prescription drug abuse and addiction.
Prescription Painkiller Abuse by the Numbers
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that opioid painkillers are the most-abused class of prescription medications. In fact, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health 11.5 million Americans have misused a prescription pain drug at least once during the past year. Even more distressing, 3.3 million are current painkiller abusers, indicating past-month misuse.
- Common opioids:
- Codeine (found in many cough medicines)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Hydrocodone (Lortab, Norco, Vicodin, Zohydro)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone)
- Tramadol (Ultram)
ALL opioids – even when taken as prescribed – have a high potential for dependence, abuse, and addiction. Painkiller abuse can be a matter of life and death, because all opioids affect the central nervous system – suppressing heart rate, blood pressure, and especially, respiration. In 2016, close to 34,000 overdose deaths involved one of the prescription-class opioids listed above.
Prescription Tranquilizer Abuse by the Numbers
Per the NSDUH, there are two million current misusers of prescription tranquilizers. These are benzodiazepine-class medications typically given for anxiety or insomnia. Rarely, barbiturates are prescribed instead of benzodiazepines.
These drugs are EXTREMELY habit-forming, and physical dependence can develop in as little as two weeks, even when taken exactly as prescribed.
Like opioids, benzos are CNS depressants, explaining why they are involved in one-third of all prescription overdose deaths. Of special relevance, three-fourths of those deaths also involve an opioid.
Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse
Warning signs of potential misuse:
- A preoccupation with pain or sleeplessness
- Exaggerating or faking symptoms
- Taking the drug with greater frequency or in larger dosages than prescribed
- Hiding or lying about use
- Secretive behavior
- Missing money
- Visiting several doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Purchasing medications from the gray or black market – the Internet, foreign pharmacies, etc.
- Obsession with acquiring and using drugs
- Ignoring important obligations and responsibilities
- Loss of interest in other activities
- Focusing on drug-induced “good” feelings
- Mood swings
- Rapid weight loss
- Accidental overdose
- Drastic change in appearance
- Poor personal hygiene
- Extreme anxiety or irritation when the drug isn’t available
- Obtaining medication from friends and family – “borrowing”, buying, or stealing
- Buying meds from a drug dealer
- DUI or criminal charges
- A personal/family history of alcoholism or drug addiction
- Physical evidence – a “stash” of medications in multiple bottles or packages, empty prescription containers, syringes
In Part 2, we will touch on prescription sedatives and stimulants.
If someone think someone you care about is misusing their prescription medication, the best thing you can do for them is convince them to get help NOW.